“No one,” highly-skilled veteran actor Lisa Gay Hamilton (Honeydripper, Jackie Brown) told my MSR colleague Charles Hallman for an article on the scarcity of work for Black women, ”is making millions of dollars — maybe one or two…are but the rest of us are struggling to make it work. It’s an awful casting wheel that you would like to get off of.
“I graduated from Julliard in 1989. Things have gotten worse since I graduated from school.”
Fact is, there’s more than one or two bagging the biggest paychecks. But, yes, it’s a short list — you’ve got Beyoncé, Halle Berry, Thandie Newton, Kerry Washington, Paula Patton — a lot shorter than the one for men, i.e. the likes of Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, Forest Whitaker, Jamie Foxx, Will Smith and more.
And while those ranks are thinner than White men’s and White women’s come a not-so-close second, African American females by and large are left in the dust, way back. On top of which, those who do get the regular, big-time work, often as not it features being horizontal with White men. In fact, Washington’s character, starring on the ABC vehicle Scandal, desperately runs behind a married U.S. president, in the process, snubbing a quite eligible (ie., good-looking, well-paid and single) brotha.
Berry won an Oscar for the Monster’s Ball role Angela Bassett angrily turned down, a self-loathing abusive single mother who wallows in bed with Billy Bob Thornton’s racist character and blows her rent money to buy this bigot a hat.
I’m not making a word of that up. Watch the movie, if you have a strong stomach, and see for yourself. Bottom line racism Hollywood style has it in for sistahs and for images of individuals with, when it comes to their love lives and sexual pursuit, any self-esteem. Has it in for them with a seething vengeance.
This is why we’d do well to be grateful for a thriving business like Webb Models & Talent Agency (www.wmtagency.com), which specializes in putting people of color to work. It’s headed up by founder-director Shatona Kilgore-Groves whose expertise is modeling, sure. But, it doesn’t take a braniac to realize modeling is an excellent means of transitioning into acting.
And, by thriving, I mean it is a Twin Cities-based business that operates nationally and places clients everywhere — from print to magazines to television to commercials to film. It’s an excellent means of doing something concrete about the media in general and Hollywood in specific as regards America’s insistence on minimizing the image of Black women, especially positive images. FYI: For posterity’s sake, you can go to Mahogany Cafe — a tribute to Black actresses in film and television (www.mahoganycafe.com) to check out an exhaustive history that’s enough to make you sigh in appreciation.
You might ask, “Who really gives a damn about women getting work playing make-believe in front of cameras, making more money in an afternoon than most of us make in a week?” Well, one, if you think it doesn’t require a world of skill, try acting sometime and see just how easy it isn’t.
Two, the next time you shake your finger and have something to say about some young hoochie-momma switching down the street barely wearing her clothes, where the hell do you think she got the inspiration. From them damn music videos that foster negative images like they were something admirable to live up to, that’s where.
The more visions of Black females that get up on screens, the better their options for choices in role models improve. Now, the Webb agency may not be able to do much about scripts, about these stories that exclude, minimize or humiliate Black women and girls, but one thing at a time (who knows, maybe their success will inspire some genius to create an agency to represent writing talent of color).
The point is, they are solving a serious problem. And deserve all the credit in the world for doing so. More power to them.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.
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